Let's Just Stick With 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'
By Tom Danehy
NEWS FLASH: ELLEN is gay? Swear! If you didn't know that, you've probably been on Mir for the past six months. I'm talking about Ellen Morgan, the character, not Ellen DeGeneres, the star. (I try to avoid blatant misuse of the word "actress" whenever possible.) Besides, everybody's known Ellen the star is gay for, like, ever. I think she was outed as part of the Bicentennial celebration.
Of course she denied it, probably saving herself for the Time cover that raised journalism to dizzying new heights by having DeGeneres squatting in an unnatural position with the banner headline reading, "Yep, I'm Gay!"
To which the universal response was, "Yeah, and?"
Back in September the show's producers first publicly floated the idea of Ellen Morgan discovering her homosexuality. A lot of people thought the producers then waited for the firestorm of controversy to die down before going ahead with the plan, but in reality they were just giving people time to look up Ellen in the TV listings, since apparently at the time it was the favorite show of dozens of people across the country.
Since then, Disney, which owns the network the show is on, not to mention the show's production company, has been cranking up the old publicity machine. I decided I'd fight back by doing what I do best, ignoring everything. I put it completely out of my mind, which is becoming increasingly easier to do as I near the age where Ronald Reagan became president.
So last Wednesday I tuned in to watch The Drew Carey Show at its regular time. I figured what with its being sweeps month and all, they'd probably have Kathy Kinney's character Mimi dressed up in some psychedelic, 3-D, go-blind-if-you-stare-at-it-too-long outfit. Must see (through special protective eye wear) TV.
Instead they had this special hour-long episode of Ellen. I had to check TV Guide, because, frankly, every episode I've ever seen of Ellen felt like it was an hour long.
Anyway, I'm watching it, mainly because the only thing on the other channel at the time was the awful Men Behaving Badly. As it turned out, the only difference between the two was that one had Oprah Winfrey on it. And that's not always a good thing. If ever.
The series started off a few years ago with a different name and a different supporting cast. It initially got so-so ratings and then steadily declined from there. When it debuted it was billed as quirky fun, but it turned out to be a lot more quirk than fun. I watched the first few episodes, but quickly lost interest. Hey, a show can't lose a talent like Arye Gross and hope to maintain its level of quality. (I'm only kidding, a little bit.) Plus, she went through writers, producers and supporting cast like George Foreman through Home Town Buffet. On rib night.
It's a common enough malady in Hollywood: Get a little bit of success and get freaky about control. Happens all the time. Look at Cybill. But at least Cybill Shepard has the sense to swallow hard and keep Christine Baranski around.
The "landmark" episode opened up with Ellen having dinner with a guy straight (if you'll pardon the expression) out of Don Henley's song, "Dirty Laundry." Ellen is dressed in her usual ensemble, the one that makes her look like the Noah Beery character, Rocky, on The Rockford Files.
That's not some stereotypical remark. I have lots of women friends who dress like that and...and...let's move on.
Ellen is introduced to his producer (Laura Dern, looking ever so fetching in a designer pantsuit). She and Ellen click immediately. The guy takes Ellen back to his hotel room and puts the moves on her. She rebuffs him, ends up in Dern's room, and, as they say on a real sitcom, yadda yadda yadda, she has an epiphany and realizes she's been on the wrong team all these years.
I admit I don't know everything there is to know about the gay lifestyle. It did strike me as somewhat odd that Ellen would wait so long in life to discover her true orientation. What is she, about 50? On the show they claim she's 35. What, in canine years? How'd they get 35, by counting the wrinkles in her neck?
Maybe self-discovery can happen any time. Besides, who cares?
The show was okay; there was one funny bit about a toaster oven. But mostly, it was much ado about nothing. Lots of cameo guest appearances (Dwight Yoakam?), and a very good job by Dern.
The main problem is that DeGeneres, for those of you fortunate enough to have avoided her over the years, simply isn't very funny. Her schtick is to make a statement, then to clarify it, then to clarify the clarification, and on and on until she's at a place diametrically opposite of the original statement. It's all a matter of timing, and the first time you hear it, it's mildly amusing. After that, it's painfully obvious it's a one-note performance.
The show was certainly not as great as the studio audience apparently felt it was. What did they do, bus in the gallery from the Dinah Shore golf tournament?
What bothered me was the media onslaught. A lot of people in this country have made a sincere and difficult effort to reach a point of tolerance for a lifestyle they neither understand nor could ever be comfortable living. Many have even had to go against the teachings of their church to reach that point. Yet now, from many quarters, they're being told their tolerance isn't enough. They must openly embrace that lifestyle or be branded a bigot. That's not right. Perhaps I'll take that up at another time.
Mostly, I hate being manipulated. And this was a case of mass media manipulation. So Ellen's gay? Big whup. Different strokes. What matters to me is that the media's being so damn pushy.
And then there's the really important question:
Q: What do we have when a lousy show suddenly has a gay leading character?
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